Tuesday, May 22, 2007

In Their Own Words

Today the Anglican world and blogosphere (blogiverse?) is abuzz with the announcement that Lambeth invitations have been sent. Apparently, they have been sent to almost all the bishops. There are reports that Bishop Gene Robinson of the Diocese of New Hampshire isn’t invited, but might later be invited as “a guest,” whatever that means; and that Bishop Martyn Minns of the Conference of Anglicans in North America (CANA), a “missionary district” of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is also not invited. There may be a couple of others sufficiently scandalous to be unwelcome, but no one has been named explicitly. You can check out all the usual suspects for all the details.

In light of all the issues raised, however, I have a question for consideration: are primates and their bishops who cannot in good conscience attend? Let’s recall some statements.

From a news story in the Times of London, July 31, 2005:

Peter Akinola the Archbishop of Nigeria, the largest Anglican province in the world, ridiculed the policy by asking the Church of England bishops if they were intending to place cameras in the bedrooms of their clergy and said that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and his church should now face disciplinary action.

"I believe that the temporary suspension of the Church of England is the right course of action to take. The church will be subjected to the same procedures and discipline that America and Canada faced".

In a rare personal jibe against Williams, he said: "Lambeth Palace upholds our common historic faith. It will now lose that place of honour in the world. Must I come to Lambeth Palace in order to go to heaven. The answer is no!"

From the statement “The Road to Lambeth,” commissioned by the Primates of the Conference of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) and received at the Global South Primates’ Meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2006:

The current situation is a twofold crisis for the Anglican Communion: a crisis of doctrine and a crisis of leadership, in which the failure of the “Instruments” of the Communion to exercise discipline has called into question the viability of the Anglican Communion as a united Christian body under a common foundation of faith, as is supposed by the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Due to this breakdown of discipline, we are not sure that we can in good conscience continue to spend our time, our money and our prayers on behalf of a body that proclaims two Gospels, the Gospel of Christ and the Gospel of Sexuality. [emphasis in the original]

It grieves us to mention that the crisis is not limited to North America. The passage of the Civil Partnerships Act in England and the uncertain trumpet sounded by the English House of Bishops have made it unclear whether the mother Church of the Communion is fully committed to upholding the historic Christian norm….So far as we can see, the Archbishop of Canterbury as Primate of All England has failed to oppose this compromising position and hence cannot speak clearly to and for the whole Communion.

In light of the above, we have concluded that we must receive assurances from the Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury that this crisis will be resolved before a Lambeth Conference is convened. There is no point, in our view, in meeting and meeting and not resolving the fundamental crisis of Anglican identity. We will definitely not attend any Lambeth Conference to which the violators of the Lambeth Resolution are also invited as participants or observers.

From a pastoral letter of Archbishop Orombi, Primate of Uganda, December 15, 2006:

We are also praying about whether our House of Bishops should attend and participate in the Lambeth Conference of Bishops in 2008. Every ten years, the Archbishop of Canterbury invites all the bishops of the Anglican Communion together for prayer and mutual consultation on matters of mission and our common life together as Anglicans throughout the world. The next conference is planned for 2008. However, the Archbishops of Africa and the Global South have received a report and a recommendation that we not participate in the next Lambeth Conference if ECUSA, and especially their gay bishop, are also invited to the conference. The House of Bishops of the Church of Uganda has not yet made a decision about this, but I wanted you to know that we are praying and asking the Lord to give us the mind of Christ on this matter.

From the statement of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) on the failure to invite Bishop Minns to Lambeth:

In response to requests for comments on the Lambeth Conference invitations, Archbishop Peter Akinola reaffirms that the Church of Nigeria is committed to the CAPA commissioned report “The Road to Lambeth”.

Since only the first set of invitations had been sent, it is premature to conclude who will be present or absent at the conference. However, the withholding of invitation to a Nigerian bishop, elected and consecrated by other Nigerian bishops will be viewed as withholding invitation to the entire House of Bishops of the Church of Nigeria.

These are strong statements, and clear in intent (although perhaps not final in application). In contrast, let’s look at the press release and Archbishop Williams’ letter regarding the invitations and the Lambeth Conference.

From the press release: “The first set of invitations are being sent today to over 800 bishops of the provinces of the Anglican Communion.”

From the letter itself:

At this point, and with the recommendations of the Windsor Report particularly in mind, I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion. Indeed there are currently one or two cases on which I am seeking further advice.

Those numbers – 800 invited, and only one or two cases that might be withheld – make clear that the bishops of the Episcopal Church will be invited, essentially in toto. Those numbers presumably include the bishop of New Westminster in Canada, and those bishops of the Church of England who have supported the legislation on civil partnerships (or have failed to sufficiently interrogate any clergy who register in them). It is inevitable that those invitations will include some of those “violaters of the Lambeth resolution (1998 –1.10)” to whom the statement refers (along, admittedly, with those “violaters” to whom they don’t refer, who have violated provincial boundaries – well, all but Minns).

From the letter again:

The Conference is a place where our experience of living out God’s mission can be shared. It is a place where we may be renewed for effective ministry. And it is a place where we can try and get more clarity about the limits of our diversity and the means of deepening our Communion, so we can speak together with conviction and clarity to the world. It is an occasion when the Archbishop of Canterbury exercises his privilege of calling his colleagues together, not to legislate but to discover and define something more about our common identity through prayer, listening to God’s Word and shared reflection. It is an occasion to rediscover the reality of the Church itself as a worldwide community united by the call and grace of Christ.

But the Lambeth Conference has no ‘constitution’ or formal powers; it is not a formal Synod or Council of the bishops of the Communion, which would require us to be absolutely clear about the standing of all the participants. An invitation to participate in the Conference has not in the past been a certificate of doctrinal orthodoxy. Coming to the Lambeth Conference does not commit you to accepting the position of others as necessarily a legitimate expression of Anglican doctrine and discipline, or to any action that would compromise your conscience or the integrity of your local church.

Clearly, this Lambeth will not be intended to “resolve” anything, and especially “the fundamental crisis of Anglican identity.” It will certainly be a topic of discussion, both in the abstract, and in the efforts toward application of some Anglican covenant. It will not, however, be “a formal Synod or Council of the bishops of the Communion” – which is the expectation, not to say the demand, of “The Road to Lambeth.”

So, we will wait to see how the Primates and bishops of the Global South react, and especially those of Nigeria and Uganda. They have made their statements, and Archbishop Williams has made his. It will be interesting to see what decisions are made.


Jon said...

I hear that AMiA is also on the un-invited list along with Bishop Minns for similar reasons, so that's another couple border crossers who're being excluded.


Marshall Scott said...

That is also my understanding, but they haven't been mentioned specifically in any official report. On the other hand, considering that the Tanzania Communique put them in the same category as CANA, their exclusion should certainly follow.